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This time, Pressel makes sure she can't lose late
by Associated Press

ROSWELL, Ga. (AP) - Morgan Pressel stood under a tree, shielding herself from the rain while her opponent tried to keep the match alive with a short putt.

When the ball slid by the hole, Pressel had won the U.S. Women's Amateur - with eight holes to spare. No way she was going to lose this championship on an improbable shot.

The 17-year-old Pressel eased some of the disappointment from her excruciating defeat in the U.S. Women's Open by winning the sport's most prestigious amateur event Sunday with a 9-and-8 rout of Maru Martinez.

Pressel kept up her march toward predicted stardom on the LPGA Tour and showed why she's one of the brightest prospects in the deep pool of emerging teenage golfers.

She had only one close call during match play, needing an extra hole in her second-round victory. She won two matches with five holes to play, and turned the 36-hole final at Settindown Golf Course north of Atlanta into one of the biggest routs in the tournament's 105-year history.

"I came here expecting big things from myself and had a lot of expectations from everybody," Pressel said. "I struck the ball very well this week. I had a lot of tight iron shots for birdie and converted many of the putts. Yeah, it was definitely one of my best weeks."

When Michelle Wie decided to skip this year's amateur championship, Pressel became the overwhelming favorite. She didn't disappoint - only three other finals have been decided by a larger margin, topped by Anne Quast Sander's 14-and-13 victory in 1961.

The match ended on the 10th hole, when Martinez missed a 4-footer to save par on a gloomy afternoon. The 21-year-old from Venezuela, who plays college golf at Auburn, dumped four balls in the water over the course of 28 holes and broke down in tears when it was over.

Pressel knows the feeling, losing two USGA events this year on unlikely shots.

The emotional teenager went to the 18th hole of the Women's Open tied for the lead, only to finish second when Birdie Kim knocked in a shot from a greenside bunker. Less than a month later, it happened again in the U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur - Pressel was eliminated when her opponent chipped in from 40 feet.

After Martinez chipped in at the 12th during the morning round, Pressel said to herself, "Uh oh, here we go again."

Not to worry. Pressel won three straight holes before the break, reaching the midway point with a 4-up lead. Rain delayed the start of the afternoon round by 50 minutes, giving the weary Martinez a little extra break, but it didn't matter.

"I guess it's a good feeling not to lose on a shot like that," Pressel said. "But I wasn't concerned. I came here to win."

When Pressel won two of the first three holes in the afternoon, extending her lead to 6-up, Martinez's body language told it all. She stood in the fourth tee box with her head resting on the shoulder of her father, Julio Martinez, who carried her bag. He gently patted her cheek and tried to give her some encouragement.

Martinez also was cheered on by a large contingent of fans decked out in Auburn colors - including her teammates and coach, who painted their faces blue and orange.

"There's a lot of golf left," a Tiger-clad fan told her. "You can make history."

Pressel was the only one making history on this day. She stepped up at the fourth and hit a soaring drive down the middle of the fairway. Martinez yanked her tee shot into a creek along the left side, erasing any thoughts of a comeback.

"I didn't do that all week," Martinez said. "But my body just wasn't responding the way I wanted it to."

Pressel isn't likely to defend her amateur title. She has applied to join the LPGA Tour and will be allowed to attend qualifying school this fall. If she makes it through Q-school, she'll get her tour card next spring after turning 18.

From all indications, Pressel's game is ready for the pros. Clearly, the amateurs were no match for her.

Pressel never trailed in the championship match, taking the lead for good in the morning at the 13th hole. Martinez missed the green, pitched 45 feet past the hole and couldn't save par.

A drive into the rough cost Martinez the 16th hole, and her deficit grew larger when Pressel made a 28-foot birdie putt from the fringe at the 17th. Then, at 18, Martinez knocked her approach into the water and Pressel put her ball safely on, stretching the lead to 4-up.

A few hours later, with the champion's medal around her neck, Pressel looked ahead to bigger things.

"It's going to give me a lot of confidence," she said. "I've got a lot going on in the next few months or so. We'll see how it all unfolds."

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